Twice Told Tales HTML version

The Haunted Mind
What a singular moment is the first one, when you have hardly begun to recollect
yourself, after starting from midnight slumber! By unclosing your eyes so suddenly you
seem to have surprised the personages of your dream in full convocation round your bed,
and catch one broad glance at them before they can flit into obscurity. Or, to vary the
metaphor, you find yourself for a single instant wide awake in that realm of illusions
whither sleep has been the passport, and behold its ghostly inhabitants and wondrous
scenery with a perception of their strangeness such as you never attain while the dream is
undisturbed. The distant sound of a church-clock is borne faintly on the wind. You
question with yourself, half seriously, whether it has stolen to your waking ear from some
gray tower that stood within the precincts of your dream. While yet in suspense another
clock flings its heavy clang over the slumbering town with so full and distinct a sound,
and such a long murmur in the neighboring air, that you are certain it must proceed from
the steeple at the nearest corner; You count the strokes—one, two; and there they cease
with a booming sound like the gathering of a third stroke within the bell.
If you could choose an hour of wakefulness out of the whole night, it would be this. Since
your sober bedtime, at eleven, you have had rest enough to take off the pressure of
yesterday's fatigue, while before you, till the sun comes from "Far Cathay" to brighten
your window, there is almost the space of a summer night—one hour to be spent in
thought with the mind's eye half shut, and two in pleasant dreams, and two in that
strangest of enjoyments the forgetfulness alike of joy and woe. The moment of rising
belongs to another period of time, and appears so distant that the plunge out of a warm
bed into the frosty air cannot yet be anticipated with dismay. Yesterday has already
vanished among the shadows of the past; to-morrow has not yet emerged from the future.
You have found an intermediate space where the business of life does not intrude, where
the passing moment lingers and becomes truly the present; a spot where Father Time,
when he thinks nobody is watching him, sits down by the wayside to take breath. Oh that
he would fall asleep and let mortals live on without growing older!
Hitherto you have lain perfectly still, because the slightest motion would dissipate the
fragments of your slumber. Now, being irrevocably awake, you peep through the half-
drawn window-curtain, and observe that the glass is ornamented with fanciful devices in
frost-work, and that each pane presents something like a frozen dream. There will be time
enough to trace out the analogy while waiting the summons to breakfast. Seen through
the clear portion of the glass where the silvery mountain-peaks of the frost-scenery do not
ascend, the most conspicuous object is the steeple, the white spire of which directs you to
the wintry lustre of the firmament. You may almost distinguish the figures on the clock
that has just told the hour. Such a frosty sky and the snow-covered roofs and the long
vista of the frozen street, all white, and the distant water hardened into rock, might make
you shiver even under four blankets and a woollen comforter. Yet look at that one
glorious star! Its beams are distinguishable from all the rest, and actually cast the shadow